Liam Gallagher: Why Me? Why Not review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week

(Warner Records)
Gallagher provides more crowd-pleasers for his sizable audience of 90s guitar-rock nostalgists – and with greater confidence

You can accuse Liam Gallagher of many things, but never of selling his music under false pretences. Not for Our Kid the public admonishment of reviewers who’ve failed to grasp its fathomless depths and manifold subtleties, nor the angry social media announcement that critics have missed that his gift is the warmth he lives his life with and the self-reflection he shares so generously (as Lana Del Rey recently admonished an NPR journalist). He deals, he told the Guardian last year, in “meat and veg rock’n’roll”: “I’m here to give people what they want, and if that’s boring, so be it.” To Gallagher Jr, music is like football: “I’m never going to change my fucking football team.”

Liam Gallagher: Why Me? Why Not. album art work
Liam Gallagher: Why Me? Why Not. album art work Photograph: PR Handout

He knows his audience. They are men in middle age for whom pop music has grown ever-more remote since the mid-90s, and for whom Noel Gallagher’s recent attempts to broaden his musical horizons a little represents an unacceptable capitulation to the terrifying forces of progress and change. They are teenagers who’ve bought into a romanticised version of the 1990s, propagated in documentaries and misty-eyed media eulogies occasioned by 25th anniversaries, and who have furthermore noted that guitar-based alt-rock has little to currently offer in that vein: you can go and see Catfish and the Bottlemen, but you’re not going to hear anything with the potency of Slide Away or Rock N’ Roll Star. Mock them if you want – the kind of people who get a petition up when a rapper headlines Glastonbury; confused and horrified by identity politics and intersectional feminism; desperate for things to be as they once were – but the sales figures suggest he’s done his research: his 2017 solo album As You Were went platinum; he’s selling out arenas and sports stadiums.

It all makes reviewing his second solo album seem like a pointless exercise. You really don’t need a critic to tell you what it sounds like; you know without reading a review whether you’ll like it or not. Anyone desperate to find some point of difference between Why Me? Why Not. and the music Liam Gallagher has already made might alight on Halo, a song audibly conceived in the vein of the Rolling Stones – 1967’s Let’s Spend the Night Together, to be specific – rather than the Beatles. Both The River and Shockwave, meanwhile, make capital from the stomping, brickies-in-eyeliner glitterbeat style also aped on Oasis’s Lyla: like Lyla, if either song had been released on RAK in 1974 by a flop band called something like Bumper or Thumper, a lot of people who wouldn’t give either Gallagher houseroom would be proclaiming them lost junkshop glam gems.

In fact, the real difference between Why Me? Why Not. and As You Were might be a certain confidence: for all its snarling vocals, the latter album ended with a song on which Liam Gallagher ruminated that his career might be over. This time, the rock songs punch a little harder, the poppier moments are more unapologetically poppy: the melody of Now That I’ve Found You evokes not John Lennon sneering his way through I Am the Walrus, but Paul McCartney shaking his moptop in crowd-pleasing style. Certainly, it’s more shameless than its predecessor in appealing to its audience’s penchant for 90s nostalgia, and their prurient interest in the ongoing Gallagher v Gallagher war, often at the same time. “Act like you don’t remember, you said we’d Live Forever,” protests One of Us. “It was easier to have fun back when we had nothing,” opens Once, contrasting this state of affairs with the mundanities of middle age – “just … send the kids to school” – before returning to the rosy glow of reminiscence: “I remember how you used to shine … When the dawn came up you felt so inspired to do it again.”

Liam Gallagher: One of Us – video

The songs, it’s worth noting, are uniformly well-written, at least within their self-imposed parameters: they’re certainly melodically stronger than his brother’s recent experiments. You get the feeling the hired hands brought in to shore up the writing have thoroughly enjoyed themselves, being paid to indulge their Beatles fantasies – to come up with a song like Once, which manages to evoke John Lennon’s Jealous Guy without actually stealing the tune outright – presumably being far more fun than their usual lot, ie driving yourself round the twist trying to devise something that Sia or Pink’s manager will deem worthy of passing on to their esteemed client.

Complaining that there’s nothing different or innovative here feels beside the point, like buying an Objekt album then taking it back because his brand of super-hip off-kilter techno doesn’t have a bloke in a parka making Beatles references over the top of it. It does what it sets out to do: provide Gallagher with material hooky enough that the arena crowds don’t storm the bars and lavatories when he stops playing Oasis songs. As Liam Gallagher knows, for his audience at least, that’s enough.

This week Alexis listened to

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Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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